Goal Setting Theory and Expectancy Theory: Comparison and Contrast

Goal Setting Theory and Expectancy Theory: Comparison and Contrast

The issue of employee motivation has been gaining so much attention of managers over the last numerous decades, because organisations realised that in order to stand out from their competitors, they need to have a better quality and higher productivity at all levels.  Also, they recognized employee is one of the most valuable assets in organisations, and they possess components that could directly affect the company’s overall performance, such as skills, experiences and knowledge. (Buhler 21) As such, most organisations are looking for ways to motivate their employee in order to improve efficiency, productivity and quality. 

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A number of motivation theories have been proposed to explain individual motivation to perform in organisations.  Motivation is defined as “the willingness to exert high levels of effort toward organisational goals, conditioned by the effort’s ability to satisfy some individual need”. (Ramlall 53)  However, different theories produce different result at different times, and thus managers are now facing a problem that employees are potentially different in terms of personality and reactions to changes.  For example, a positive motivational atmosphere is not likely to motivate everyone in organisation, because different employee is motivated by different things. (Thompson, McHugh)  Therefore, it is critical for mangers to decide what motivation theories are most applicable in their workplace and ultimately achieving the organisation goals.

Two theories that can be used to explain the motivation of managers are the expectancy theory and the goal setting theory. Both of these are process theories as they are based on how behaviour is, “initiated, directed and sustained” (Billsberry 13) and, “attempt to identify the relationships among the dynamic variables which make up motivation” (Mullins 499). In this paper I am going to compare and contrast these two motivation theories.  I will briefly explore the context of each theory and attempt to identify the similarities and differences among them.  Finally, this paper will discuss how they apply to managers, and to what extent they can explain the manger’s motivations.

The Expectancy Theory
Vroom presented the original workplace related expectancy theory in 1964, which argued that “employees tend to rationally evaluate various on the job-work behaviours and then choose those best behaviours they believe will lead to their most valued work related rewards and outcomes”. (Vroom 8) “The expectancy theory suggests that people will put in extra effort if they believe it will result in greater performance, and that the greater performance will lead to desirable outcomes such as bonuses, promotion, a feeling of satisfaction or simply someone saying thank you” (Billsberry 13). The expectancy theory is based on the principle that an individual will act in a certain way on the expectation that the act will be followed by a given outcome and on the attractiveness of that outcome to the individual. For example, a manager may be more motivated and work twice as hard to succeed for the business if they believe it will increase the chance of him/her receiving a bonus.

This theory can be used to help us understand how managers make decisions regarding various behavioural alternatives. It deals with the direction aspect of motivation, where our expectations and behaviour lead to achieving our goals. The expectancy theory is also known as the Valence-Instrumentality-Expectancy Theory or VIE Theory (Arnold 123). This theory is based on the belief that motivation is a combination of valence, instrumentality and expectancy. Valence is the value of the perceived outcome, for example, how much a manager wants to gain a promotion in a company. This is based on his/her goals, needs, aspirations, preferences and values. Managers can gain both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, which help motivate them to do their job. Intrinsic rewards are positive internal feelings which include a sense of responsibility and achievement, and this business cannot offer its employees. Extrinsic rewards can be physical such as receiving a bonus, and this the company can offer. For a manager to be motivated, both these types of values should be satisfied (Huczynski & Buchanan).

The second part of the expectancy theory, instrumentality, is the belief that if certain actions are completed, then the individual will achieve the outcome. (Arnold 127) An example of this is if a manager achieves a target he sets himself, he will intrinsically feel that he has done a good job, and this would also motivate him to continue to meet other goals. (Giles 429) Expectancy is the last part of this theory and it is the belief that a person is able to complete the actions in order to attain the desired goals. This belief is usually based upon an individual’s previous experiences and self-confidence (Huczynski & Buchanan). An example of this is how much a manger believes that by working his hardest, his individual effort will make a difference to the company he works for.

The expectancy theory equation is as follows (Giles 427):
F = (Expectancy x Instrumentality x Valance)
The formula above helps explain the motivation of managers as it, “provides a basis for measuring the strength or force (F) of the individual’s motivation to behave in particular ways” (Huczynski & Buchanan 250). Managers should have high values for force because to motivate their team, they too should be highly motivated. The managers have a high expectancy value (as well as valence and instrumentality) because they believe that their job is to effectively co-ordinate their subordinates, so if they are successful in motivating, they would feel even more motivated because of the intrinsic and extrinsic rewards gained from that.

However, the expectancy theory only helps and applies to the motivation of managers to some extent because it does not consider job insecurity and how that can affect performance. Therefore, any value calculated is likely to be unreliable. It is also difficult to compare two managers’ motivations as they may rate valence, expectancy and instrumentality differently, hence, it would be a slightly unfair comparison. (Mullins).

Goal Setting Theory

Goal setting theory is one of the most widely used motivational techniques throughout industry today. (Halepota) This theory emerged in late 1960, researchers argued that the simple act of specifying targets for behaviour enhanced task performance. (Yearta et al. 238)  In other words, individuals make calculated decisions about their desired goals.  Once individuals determine the goals they intend to achieve, these goals or intentions will motivate efforts to attain them.  Thus, setting goals affects behaviours of the individuals and their job-related performance. (McKenna 101-110)

There are two critical aspects in goal setting theory.  Firstly, researchers showed that goal specificity, goal difficulty, goal acceptance and participation are closely related in enhancing task performance.  For instance, specific and clear goals always increase performance, also, when difficult or challenging goals are accepted by employees, performance will tend to be higher, therefore the characteristics of goals are largely affect on individual’s performance. (Richard 382) Secondly, receiving feedback on goal achievement is another critical part for motivation, because the feedback will assure individuals of their continued progress or behaviours in achieving the same goals in the future. (Yearta et al. 237-252)

In contemporary work situations, goal setting theory seeks the involvement of both mangers and employees in participation of goals-setting process, which allows them to communicate and evaluate the most attainable and acceptable goals. Simultaneously, the communication between managers and employees offers the feeling of importance to employees and allows for feedback.  Moreover, timely and accurate feedback is critical, because if employees do not get feedback on their performance, it is impossible to know what behaviours to continue in order to achieve the similar goals in future. (Porter, Lawler 308)

Similarity and Difference Among Expectancy and Goal Setting Theories

Expectancy theory and goal setting theory are all classified as cognitive theories, because they are collectively attempt to understand the thought processes that people usually go through in determining their behaviours in the workplace and thereby helping to leads motivation. (Denny) However, each theory takes a slightly different view towards motivation.  Under expectancy theory, people’s behaviour however is motivated by the expectations that effort and performance will lead to desired outcome.  In order to be motivated, individual need to be committed in achieving goal under goal setting theory, in other words, goals direct one’s thoughts and actions. (Shamir 425)

Moreover, managers need to take different approaches in order to best use of each motivation theories.  Under expectancy theory suggested that employee is only motivated to their desired rewards, however, different employee desire different rewards, managers should try to match the rewards with what their employees really want, otherwise, failed in motivation.  In contrast, under goal setting theory the critical factor is goal, but there are many obstacles that might decrease motivation, for example, when goals are vague, too difficult to attain and related to rewards. Thus, it is very important for mangers to participate in the goal setting process with employees, and also it allows communication and provides feedback. (Steers 382)


To conclude, both the expectancy theory and goal setting theory can help explain the motivation of managers in order for them to achieve maximum results and performance for the company. According to Vroom’s expectancy theory, motivation is dependent on how much someone wants something, and the likelihood of that person actually being able to get it.  This helps explain the motivation of managers to some degree as it shows the direction of the individual and what makes them motivated, although being able to apply a value to this is questionable. The goal theory is also extremely useful because it organises the efforts of the manager, however a limit of the goal theory is that it can be a time consuming process. This is because it takes time to set specific goals, accomplish them, and to complete them within a given time. Nevertheless the goal setting theory is more useful than otherwise because it is able to explain the motivation of managers to a greater extent.


Arnold H. ‘A Test of the Validity of the Multiplicative Hypothesis of Expectancy-Valence Theories of Work Motivation’. Academy of Management Journal 24 (1981): 128-141.

Bilsberry, J. The Effective Manager, Perspectives and Illustrations. Sage Publication, 1996.

Buhler P.M. ‘Managing in the New Millennium’, Supervision 64 12 (2003): 20-22.

Denny R. Motivate to Win. Kogan Page Limited. 1993

Giles W.F., ‘Volunteering for Job Enrichment: A Test of Expectancy Theory Predictions’, Personnel Psychology 30 3 (1977): 427-435.

Huczynski A. & Buchanan D. Organisational Behaviour, An Introductory Text.  4th Edition. Prentice Hall: Pearson Education Limited. 2001

Halepota H. ‘Motivational Theories and Their Application in Construction’, Cost Engineering 47 3 (2005): 14-18.

McKenna E. Business Psychology and Organisational Behaviour, A Student’s Handbook. 3rd Edition. Psychology Press Ltd., 2000

Mullins, L. Management and Organisational Behaviour. 4th Edition. Pitman Publishing, 1996

Porter L., Lawler E. ‘The Relationship of Job Characteristics to Job Involvement, Satisfaction, and Intrinsic Motivation’. Journal of Applied Psychology 54 (1970): 305-312.

Ramlall S. ‘A Review of Employee Motivation Theories and their Implications for Employee Retention within Organisations’, Journal of American Academy of Business 5 1/2, (2004): 52-63.

Shamir B, ‘Meaning, Self and Motivation in Organisations’, Organisation Studies 12/3 (1991): 405-424.

Steers R. et al. ‘The Future of Work Motivation Theory’, Academy of Management Review 29 3 (2004): 379-387.

Thompson P. A, McHugh, D. Work Organisations – A Critical Introduction. 2nd Ed. Macmillan Press Ltd, 1995

Vroom V. Work and Motivation. New York: Wiley, 1964

Yearta S. et al. ‘An exploratory Study of Goal Setting in Theory and Practice: A Motivational Technique That Works’, Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology 68 (1995): 237-252.

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